In the world we live in of happy endings and resolutions wrapped up in a neat box, all of us have this deep desire to have closure so we can feel okay.
As it relates to death, I hear so often from widows that they can’t move forward in their lives until they understand why or how their person died, and what exactly happened.
But this week, I’m offering that everything you know about closure is wrong because it’s a complete myth. You get to choose where you spend your energy, and I’m inviting you to see how you truly don’t need closure to live a life you love.
Welcome to The Widowed Mom Podcast, episode 134, The Closure Myth.
Welcome to The Widowed Mom Podcast, the only podcast that offers a proven process to help you work through your grief, to grow, evolve, and create a future you can truly look forward to. Here’s your host, Master Certified life coach, grief expert, widow, and mom, Krista St. Germain.
Hey there, welcome to another episode of the podcast. We’re going to talk about closure today, the closure myth, and little updates from my world. So, last weekend we had a little cookie decorating and little gift exchange event for my daughter’s volleyball team. That was fun, a lot of laughter.
They played a really fun game that I had never seen before. It was like, a telephone game, where someone writes something down like Santa coming down the chimney with presents. Then, the next person tries to draw that, and then the next person tries to write down what the person before them drew. Then the next person writes down what the other person drew, and it just goes on and on. It’s a big game of telephone. You end up with something completely different from the original message that the first person started with, which was hilarious.
So, if you’re looking for a game to play, I recommend that one. Then, last night at practice, she sprained her ankle in less exciting news. She went up for a block, came down, landed on another player, and oof. At least the X-rays showed no broken bones, but we’ll be looking at crutches for the foreseeable future. So, everyone, send your best healing energy her way. Because this is not exactly what we were looking for this holiday season. But we know how that goes, right?
Okay, let’s get into closure. I often get someone who comes to me and says something like; I’m trying to get closure. But they won’t tell me what really happened, or I need closure so that I can move forward, right? But they died, so now I’ll never really know what they were thinking, right? We think that we need closure. Maybe this is something that’s happened to you, and it’s very common in our culture, this idea of closure. But it can be problematic, and the reason it can become problematic is that we really do believe that we need it to feel peace.
We think we need it to move forward in order to feel peace, ugh, problems. So, what I want to offer you in today’s episode is that basically everything you think you know about closure is wrong. I think it’s a complete myth, so that is what I will tell you. I will break it down for you and tell you why I think we’re wrong about closure, why it’s something we don’t actually need, and what we really need instead.
Okay, and before I challenge the idea of closure, I want to remind you that we live in a commercial culture of happy endings and resolution, right? Almost every movie has one. There’s some sort of emotional story or mystery that ends with a conclusion where we walk away from a movie, typically believing that we understand what happened and why. We feel resolved, concluded, and peaceful, right. We can kind of tuck away our experience in this neat little box because it’s been wrapped up with a tidy ending, and we can move on to the next thing in life.
We like it that way, and we think our life experience is supposed to be, right? And we really like those tidy endings. Because humans don’t like uncertainty, we can’t stand not knowing what happened. And salespeople know this, authors know this, television writers know this, great public speakers know this. Because what happens when a movie, book, or a TV show doesn’t end in resolution and leaves us wondering what happened, or worse, gives us a cliff hanger.
Well, in that case, we are pretty certain a sequel is coming, aren’t we? And this works really well if you’re a moviemaker. Because if they leave us with a cliffhanger, we’re going to be on the lookout for the sequel. We’re probably going to be talking about it too, and telling our friends, ah, can you believe it, right? And the TV show, if we’re left with a cliffhanger, you can bet we’re going to tune into the next episode to find out what happens.
If you’ve ever binged watched a season of anything, it’s probably because the scriptwriters did an excellent job of opening loops. And they are making sure that you knew that those loops wouldn’t be closed until the next episode. Then, you watch the next episode, and at the end of that episode, they open another loop, and they do that repeatedly. They give you a resolution in the middle of the episode but never at the end.
This explains why I couldn’t stop last year when I started watching Game of Thrones. I mean, I could have, but I didn’t, right. I struggled to stop because I would sit down to watch one episode, and five episodes later, I would still be watching because I had to know what happens. I hated not knowing, and I wanted those loops to be closed. Humans don’t like open loops.
We want a storyline that comes to a resolution. And we don’t like uncertainty. We have no tolerance for it. Think about this; we don’t like uncertainty so much that entire religions have been created so that we don’t have to be uncertain about where we came from, why things happen, or what happens after we die. Our tolerance for uncertainty is lacking, at best. Right, we don’t like it. And this works well for people who are in the business of selling us something, right?
The scriptwriter appreciates that you don’t have a tolerance for uncertainty. The wrongful death attorney, who is selling you on the lawsuit that would bring you peace, appreciates that you don’t tolerate uncertainty. The would-be psychic who would tell you what really happened to your loved one, whether they actually know or not, appreciates that you don’t have a tolerance for uncertainty.
That’s why it can be so problematic when related to death, and the loss of a loved one, or what happened before they died. The idea is that we need resolution, conclusion, closure to an emotional or traumatic experience. So, that we can move forward can have a lot of us really spinning our wheels trying to find information that we may never get or, worse, holding ourselves emotionally hostage to the peace that we want because we believe the lie that more information is required. Are you with me?
This is why closure is a myth, okay? Here’s the truth, more information doesn’t necessarily create peace, does it? Information by itself doesn’t create any emotion. Information is just information. It’s just data. Our brain is not emotional about data. Our brain is actually quite bored with data. So, it’s never the data that we receive, the information that we receive, that creates our emotional experience of it.
It’s always what we make the data mean. It’s always our brain’s story about that data. So, whether we get more data or don’t, it won’t be the reason we do or don’t experience peace. Think about how many shows you watched that had you completely riveted throughout the series, and then you get to the ending, and you feel completely let down with the way the writers chose to end it. You have the information of what happened, but you didn’t feel peace.
The same is true with information about someone’s life or their death or what happened before they died. For me, I don’t know why the driver who hit my husband’s car had meth and alcohol in his system and chose to get behind the wheel of a car on a Sunday afternoon. I don’t know why he didn’t hit the brakes. I don’t know why he didn’t see our hazard lights. And it’s a total illusion to believe that more information about why he did what he did would create peace for me.
Because more information definitely won’t bring my husband back, right? More information might be something I use to get myself even more worked up and angrier. More information, I still might choose to think, that lying no good piece of you know, expletive here, you know, he shouldn’t have done that. The more information I have that might not generate compassion. More information wouldn’t be the difference-maker. What I chose to make more information would be. Right, that’s what really matters.
The good news is that’s within our control because what we choose to make information mean or the lack of information happens inside us. It’s something we can control. But what I think is even more important than what prevents us from feeling peace is not lack of information. It is our inability to feel uncertain. The more comfortable we are with uncertainty, the easier it is to feel peace.
I will say that again because I think it matters. The more comfortable we are with uncertainty, the easier it is to feel peace. And we don’t need “closure” I use that with air quotes because it’s a myth, right? We don’t need more information to move forward. We don’t need the resolution to move forward. We need to be okay with not knowing, not having information, and not being resolved. When you think about it, the amount of energy that we have every day to spend is final. We only have so much of it. And so, we want to choose very carefully where we spend that energy, don’t we?
Do we want to spend it chasing information that we might never find and asking questions that might not have an answer? Or do we want to decide to be okay with not knowing? To be okay with uncertainty and choose our next move anyway. Right, do we want to spin our wheels trying to control things that we can’t or chasing the illusion of control, or do we want to focus our energy internally on what we can actually control. Which is the way that we think and the way we respond.
I don’t think that our ability to keep living after they die has anything to do with whether we understand why or how they died, whether we understand what they were thinking. What happened? Right, I think our ability to choose who we want to be in the world is just simply something we get to choose. It doesn’t have anything to do with whether we understand other people’s choices.
Our ability to do those things is about our ability to focus on where we spend our energy. And I see a lot of us wrapped around the axel, spinning because we think we need more information. We need to understand. We have to know why, and if we don’t, we can’t move forward. And it’s just a lie.
But here is what it does, number one, keeps us a little bit safe, right? If there’s a part of us, that’s scared to move forward. There’s a part of us to take that next step, and then it’s a whole lot easier to hide behind the lack of closure. I don’t mean that as an insult, and I don’t mean that as an insult. I am not trying to make you feel bad. But to the little part of us that is scared, it’s kind of comforting to hide behind the lack of closure.
And another problem with it is that this whole concept of closure perpetuates the idea that grief ends. Which if that’s what we’re looking for, kind of serves us, doesn’t it? If we think that grief could potentially end and all we have to do is get the right amount of information, then doesn’t it make sense that we might pursue that information? But the thing is, grief doesn’t end.
It’s a myth that grief ends, right? Grief is our thoughts and feelings about a loss and the loss that happened. So, we’re always going to have thoughts and feelings about it. Some of those thoughts will make us feel positive emotions, and some will make us feel negative emotions. And the truth is that most of us wouldn’t have it any other way. We don’t want to feel positive about our loved ones dying. We don’t want to feel like, oh, I am so happy they died. No, we don’t. We want to be sad that they died.
We don’t need to feel happy that they died. When we’re doing grief work, we’re not trying to get away from negative emotions. We’re not trying to prevent them from being there in the first place. We’re trying to accept them and make peace with them, and not have a miserable experience of them.
We are trying to learn that negative emotion is a part of grief, it’s a part of the human experience, and that it has its place. But that it doesn’t have to result in suffering. It doesn’t have to limit what’s possible for our lives. It doesn’t have to dictate our behavior. It’s just part of the loss. So, we don’t need a neat, tidy ending where everything is resolved. And where we have warm fuzzy feelings to be okay with our grief. And it certainly doesn’t end if we get that neat, tidy ending.
So, here’s what I want to offer in terms of a mindset switch; the whole problem comes from the idea that we don’t know what happened, and we need to. And we don’t know why something happened, and we need to. That not knowing prevents us from moving forward. That not knowing prevents us from peace, but that is a lie. That is a myth. Peace comes from deciding to believe that I may never know what happened or why, and that’s okay.
Peace comes from deciding to believe that I don’t need to know all the reasons. Peace comes from the belief and choice to believe that I don’t need to know. I may never understand. However, I can still keep living according to my values instead of controlling the uncontrollable or insisting on information where none might be available. We can realize that our biggest return on investment is actually to focus on the aspects of our lives that we really do control. This is only what happens inside us and only who we choose to be.
So, if you’ve been buying the myth that you need closure for you to move forward, I want to offer that you don’t. I want to offer that more information might not actually make you feel better, that how you feel doesn’t really have as much to do or anything to do with the information that you have, right? And that you can create your own peace by choosing to be okay with not knowing. By increasing your tolerance for uncertainty, you’re not alone if it’s hard. It’s hard for me too. But that really is the answer that I want to encourage you to pursue. Because the truth is that more information might not actually help, and you may never get the information that you want.
I will never know why. I won’t know why that driver did that. I won’t know why he died that day. I won’t know why the doctors, you know, couldn’t save him, and why the error happened, that did in the hospital. I won’t know. I won’t know, and if I thought I needed to know, then that would take a lot of my energy. I want to use that energy to live my life, and I want to use that energy to stop focusing on something that I can’t control anymore because it’s over and done, right? And to focus on who I want to be in this world, even though that happened. And that’s available to you. But it’s going to be hard if you keep holding back until you believe you have closure.
All right, that’s what I have for you this week. Remember, I love you. You’ve got this. Take care, and I will see you next week.
If you like what you’ve been hearing on this podcast and want to create a future, you can truly get excited about even after the loss of your spouse, I invite you to join my Mom Goes On coaching program. It’s small group coaching just for widowed moms like you, where I will help you figure out what’s holding you back and give you the tools and support you need so you can move forward with confidence. Please don’t settle for a new normal that’s less than you deserve. Go to coachingwithkrista.com and click work with me for details and next steps. I can’t wait to meet you.